After the very sad news that Paddy Holohan was forced to retire young from MMA we take a look back at one of the greatest events in recent UFC memory, UFC Fight Night Dublin, in which Paddy made his promotional debut in the opening bout. While the card may not have been as strong as some of the PPV cards, the atmosphere made the whole night an experience not to forget.
When UFC Dublin was announced with Conor McGregor headlining, it became the quickest event in UFC history to sell out. Not only was the card marketed as the homecoming and the return of McGregor after his ACL tear, the event was marketed as the birth of the next generation of fighters from Ireland. With Paddy Holohan, Neil Seery, Norman Parke and Cathal Pendred joining McGregor on the card, there was always going to be a festival like atmosphere in the o2 Arena in Dublin.
‘The Hooligan’ opened up the card to a raucous reception from the Dublin crowd, in an unprecedented atmosphere for an opening fight on a Prelim Card. Paddy looked excited early on eating a couple of punches on the way in, but he dropped his opponent Josh Sampo with a viscous uppercut moments later. Attempting to pass Sampo’s half guard, Holohan almost got caught in an armbar but he scrambled to Sampo’s back and sunk in the rear naked choke after just 3:06 of the very first round.
“I’ve never seen an arena this full for the first fight of the night” – Dan Hardy commenting in his post fight interview with Paddy Holohan
Paddy, who kicked off the night with a bang, was visibly excited after the fight and didn’t have too much to say in his post-fight interview about the fight but he did give a shout out to Aisling Daly, who was in the Ultimate Fighter house at the time of the event.
“Ais that’s out there in the big house, doing her time, stay strong, we’re all here. In six weeks time we’ll be sitting down talking about this.”
The atmosphere just grew from there with a crescendo of excitement as each Irish fighter took the centre stage.
Up next was a light heavyweight bout between Nikita Krylov and Cody Donovan, which felt more like a prelim fight as the crowd still beaming from Ireland going 1-0 for the night dissipated slightly as Krylov TKO’d Donovan at the end of the first round. Then came the turn of the middleweights as Trevor Smith took on Tor Troeng in the first of two Middleweight bouts in a row. In a somewhat lacklustre affair, Smith took a unanimous decision victory over Troeng.
Another Irishman was next as Cathal Pendred took on fellow TUF 19 castmate Mike King. The pressure was on Pendred to continue what Holohan had started, and he obliged in the most amazing fashion. After being rocked badly twice in the opening round, Pendred was lucky to get to the bell as King looked to secure a rear naked choke.
As the second round started Pendred, looked the worse for wear. He somehow managed to make an amazing comeback and finish the fight with a rear naked choke of his own, which again sent the crowd into a manic state.
As Neil Seery entered the Octagon, it was almost as if those in attendance knew they were part of something special. The atmosphere was one of invincibility. The Irish fighters could not fall. Seery duly played his part as he got a unanimous decision victory over flyweight veteran Phil Harris. Swedish light heavyweight Ilir Latifi then made short work of Chris Dempsey in the feature fight on the Prelim Card, stopping the American with punches after just two minutes.
Norman Parke opened the Main Card as a heavy favourite over Naoyuki Kotani, and finished his opponent in the second round making it 4-0 for the Irish fighters. Two top flyweights in Ian McCall and Brad Pickett squared off next in a highly anticipated brawl. The pair must have been distracted by the crowd though, as McCall won a unanimous decision in a listless performance.
In the co-Main Event, adopted Irish man Gunnar Nelson took on Zak Cummings. Gunnar looked set to make it 5-0 for the Irish and 3-0 for John Kavanagh and SBG on the night, and he received a welcome just as warm as the Dublin natives before him. The ever stoic Nelson got the finish right at the end of the second round with another rear naked choke.
Setting the scene for a historic night for Irish sports, McGregor was next.
As Sinead O’Connor came booming over the Arena the crowd erupted. The whole room felt like it was vibrating. The crescendo grew, louder and louder. As ‘The Notorious’ appeared in the Arena to Notorious B.I.G, the party started. There was no doubt in the room that Ireland would get the clean sweep; that SBG would get the clean sweep and that everyone watching at home was green with envy for those in attendance and green with national pride.
McGregor picked Diego Brandao apart quickly getting the stoppage late in the first round. Beer flew into the air as the crowd cheered and celebrated an occasion that couldn’t be emulated again. McGregor took to the mic after the fight and made a statement that has echoed ever since, even being displayed at UFC 194 before the fight.
“We’re not here to take part, we’re here to take over!” – Conor McGregor
A clean sweep for the Irish. An event not soon to be forgotten for it’s historic story but certainly in light of recent developments will hold a special place in the heart of all fighters and fans involved and in attendance that night.